With the advent of a U.S.-market spin-off reboot, creatively (sarcasm) called Top Gear America -featuring hosts of all of the Americas, provided that they come from just the U.S.- I decided to revisit its predecessor, Top Gear USA.
Top Gear USA was the inevitable North-American spin-off of the Top Gear franchise. After all, there have been other spin-offs for Australia, Russia, and South Korea. The three hosts were comedian Adam Ferrara, car-guy Rutledge Wood and racecar driver Tanner Faust. Initially following the same format of the franchise with a studio, test track, Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, The Stig, etc., the show later on focused solely on challenges, with whoever winning said challenges usually getting to test the cream of the crop of the car world… most likely in another challenge.
Initially the show was subpar. Many complained that the roles of hosts were miscast. I didn’t look at the show with kind eyes, as it felt unoriginal in the sense that they kept ripping off every single challenge from the original Top Gear. It also got really tiresome having to see Tanner win challenges so often, because racecar driver. Thankfully, like the chemistry between the trio, the show got gradually better, but I wasn’t going to shed tears if it was cancelled. I am surprised that it lasted 6 seasons. BTW, if you ask why I watched the show even though I didn’t love it, well, we’ve all done it, right? Overall, I found the series passable. Besides, the episodes go quickly.
The cars featured in this article are, in my opinion, those that best represent the show -as well as a few personal favorites- but are just some of the many more that were featured in the show. If you have a favorite machine that wasn’t included, go ahead and mention it in the comments section at the end of the post.
This is what Top Gear USA started out with: have an AH1 Cobra helicopter chase and stop another snake, a Dodge Viper SRT10. Can’t deny it, the show started out as strong as their production value.
Star in a Reasonably Priced Car Big Star, Small Car, er, car wasn’t a rebadged Suzuki, it was an actual Suzuki, specifically a Suzuki SX4 Sportback. This is where celebrities that North Americans actually knew about went on the show, got interviewed, and did their best on the test track with this car. The segment wasn’t that bad and some guest stars were quite interesting, I mean, Buzz Aldrin as the series’ first guest star? That was a pretty cool choice.
The Ariel Atom is the fastest car to go around their version of the Top Gear Test Track, clocking in a 1:18.6. The slowest? Officially, it’s the 2010 Hennessey F-150 VelociRaptor 600. It did it in 1:39.0. But man was it fun to watch something like it do a lap. Notice how I said that the VelociRaptor was officially the slowest. Unofficially there was one slower, and it wore a Lamborghini badge: an uber-rare Lamborghini R 485 tractor, which The Stig actually took around the track at a respectable time of 5:22.0. In relative terms, that’s slow, but there are few sights more entertaining than watching The Stig driving a tractor.
The sight of these 2-door 4x4s made my knees weak. Here we have a 1979 Ford Bronco and a 1973 International Harvester Scout II, modified to take on Iceland, with an equally drool-worthy ex-military 1984 Chevrolet CUCV M-1008 out of shot. I went with this pic because while there’s no Chevy, it’s just the coolest one, but there’s more here.
If you’re a proud (North) American proving which (North) American pickup truck was toughest while driving through one of (North) America’s toughest terrains, you don’t want the title to befall on a Japanese-branded truck, right? Here’s the 1993 Toyota Truck that stalked the trio’s choice of truck, which include a 1983 Chevrolet K-10, a 1997 Dodge Ram and a 1976 Ford F-250. They did a car version of this challenge, minus Alaska.
I want you to guess which vehicle belonged to which host during this particular episode. I’ll give you a hint: part of the choice has to do with the hosts’ respective birth years. We have a 1973 Datsun 240Z (that was either ruined by the end, or substituted by an already ruined one for a challenge), a 1980 Dodge Van 200 time-capsule and a 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham. These were the trio’s choices to an interesting question: what car would you choose to get you through life? They later tested a bunch of newer ones.
This 1986 Merkur XR4Ti was indeed bought by Rutledge (Tanner had it for that particular episode), among other vehicles like the 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Classic donk, the RWD 2JZ-powered 2008 Scion xB and the Chevrolet Express school bus winter build (remember the Polar Vortex?). The Merkur must’ve truly left an impression on him, given that he was driving the seriously cool 1992 Subaru SVX (Adam had a 1993 Cadillac Allante) on the Cult Classics episode. He later sold the Merkur to a Jalopnik.com editor, who’d later sell it to a reader. Said reader documented his ownership before later selling it on. Click here to get a summary.
Tanner Faust has driving skills. Also, the water’s wet and Rutledge has a beard. In an attempt to find the limits of Tanner’s driving abilities, he was given some vehicles to drift. Along with a limo, a food truck, and a bus, this is the camper conversion attempt. This exercise does prove one thing: people –including this trio- are convinced that squealing the tires and breaking out the rear end qualifies as a drift. IT ISN’T. A drift requires that, yes, the rear tires break loose using a number of techniques, forming a phenomenon known as oversteer, but one SUSTAINS this oversteer with throttle control and counter steering. Adam pretty much said the same thing before this misleading segment began. At least Tanner admitted that not everything can be drifted.
While motorcycles appear on the show, it’s mostly as part of a challenge against the boys, like a Triumph Speed Triple 1050 that Tanner went against with a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 police car. But the trio got to ride motorcylces in the most (North) American way possible, doing the whole Sturgis thing with cruiser-style motorbikes. Tanner: 2013 Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle. Rutledge: 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Glide. Adam: 2007 Suzuki LS 650 Savage/S40 Boulevard with sidecar. Other non-cars include big rigs and tractors (I confess that I still yell ‘MOAR RABBIT!!’ as an inside joke in the family because of Adam).
It was a shock to see Bisimoto’s notorious 1000+HP Honda Odyssey driven in TGUSA, a show that doesn’t treat cars gingerly. Given that Rutledge once won a challenge involving MPVs (Chevy Astro FTW!!), this choice of vehicle fitted him to a T. It wouldn’t be the only time that one of the boys snuck in a ringer into a challenge: Tanner would bring a RWD-converted monster Rogue Status 2008 Scion xB in taxicab motif that Rutledge would later come to own and Adam would bring a heavily tuned 1986 Buick Grand National.
Even by the fourth season I still had my doubts of Top Gear USA. But I will admit that they truly had moments that blew me away, like having The Stig parachute down towards the ample real estate of a 1975 Lincoln Mark IV. Adam and his 1970 Buick Electra 225 and Rutledge with his 1976 Chevrolet Caprice Classic donk/lowrider couldn’t do anything but sit look with their jaws on the floor.
Then there were moments that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend what I just witnessed, such is the case of Adam’s Ford Mustang. With a glider bolted on top. To get it down from a cliff. And land it on an inflatable castle.
I completely lost it when a Vector W8 appeared! I never wanted to see a Top Gear USA episode so badly. My brain tried to override the rational side of itself to the fact that such a rare car wasn’t going to have more than three minutes on air, which is what happened. Still…
A Saleen S7 wasn’t so bad, even if it is no Vector. It was joy to see that thing being used. Call me biased, but this car stole my attention from the other two (North) American supercars: the 2013 Lucra LC470 (the name sounds like a tuned Lexus) and the Rossion Q1. The show was never short of the usual array of exotica from Italy (Ferrari and Lamborghini) and England (Aston-Martin and McLaren), as well as the occasional wildcard, relatively speaking, from Germany (Mercedes SLSs, Audi R8s, 2012 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse… Bugatti is VW-owned), England again (2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith and Bentley Continentals) and Japan (2011 Lexus LFA).
There was definitely no shortage of muscle cars, new and old, stock and not, on the show. But if you can’t decide which one you like best and if price is no object, the Equus Bass 770 is a fine car, which takes design elements from all over the muscle car spectrum. And the name does apply to it, given that the car has a lot of Ford Mustang in it as well. Shame I only think of a luxurious Hyundai every time I hear it. I like the Hyundai Equus. It doesn’t really matter, given that people most likely don’t know of it either.
I don’t hate the Jeep Renegade, even if I found some of their earlier commercials to be slightly annoying. But just by looking at it I knew it didn’t have the chops of previous Renegade-wearing Jeeps, though to be honest, the Renegade name was a trim level, not a stand-alone model. Still, the fact that Tanner got stuck on a flight of stairs drives the point home on how capable the “trail-rated” Renegade is. Let’s just chalk this up as another mis-named Mopar product; they’ve done it so often, why stop now?
When was the last time you saw a 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Limited being showcased? That’s the reason why I’m mentioning it. IMO, these machines are so underrated. The fact that the show used one for one of their episodes caught me off-guard. There’s another thing that also caught me off-guard: the driving into a moving open train car. How did they film that? Did the trio do that particular stunt? How many takes? How did the logistics work out?
Another machine that I was pleasantly surprised to be on the show was the 2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser. Rutledge loves a good ‘yota, given that he’s been involved with Toyota off the show, and has tested a Toyota Tundra, a 2009 Toyota Yaris, a Scion FR-S and a 1990 Toyota 4Runner on it. Another marque Rutledge seems to gravitate to is Volkswagen, having driven a Rabbit Pickup -twice-, a ‘Bus’ and a diesel Passat. The Jeep truck with Adam on top? That’s an 2013 AEV Brute Double Cab; I honestly did not know that truck existed.
“Looks like Roscoe’s regretting commandeering Boss’ Cadillac to chase them Duke Boys…” Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Then again, the show was going for the whole moonshiner thing.
If there’s one scene that pretty much encapsulated the show was the one where Adam jumped and bent a Cadillac. Heck, they named the episode after the event, “Flying Coupe de Ville”! This confirms that a) Adam loves older metal and b) this is evidence that he is indeed “The Wrecker” of the trio. Too bad those two facts will mix…
Admit it, when watching Top Gear (UK), we’d enjoy the destruction of automobiles, blissfully unaware if they’re rare or not. Well, when Top Gear USA started, I’m sure there were more than a few people how weren’t laughing as much seeing cars they actually know about getting the Top Gear treatment. Adam really dug the 1973 Buick Centurion he drove. It’s a shame he flipped it. Well, it was already partially ruined by that “Flat Iron Building” camper thing. ’71-’73 production numbers were a little over 10,000 units, so this isn’t a common car, it’s rare.
The drawback of these challenges –regardless of TV show- is that many of the cars are desirable to the right person, like the 1986 Plymouth Conquest, a RWD turbo Mitsubishi captive import with a fierce cult following, even if their blue book value has yet to reflect this. So it’s cool to be lusted after, but its relative value being low enough to be snapped up by people who will drive it into a tree. This machine wasn’t imported in the same numbers as a Z31 Nissan 300ZX, and parts and information are nowhere near as plentiful as a domestic product like a C4 Chevrolet Corvette. I’d be more than happy if I was wrong, though. This one got turned into a boat, so it was driven into the water.
The same goes for Tanner’s 1991 Eagle Talon TSi, the one with DOHC turbo, but no AWD. The fact that it’s drivable and the body looks straight is good enough, given how these cars were treated, particularly if it was the Mitsubishi version. Alas, whether it was this same car or a shell painted to look like it, there’s one less Talon on the road, because Tanner –who gushed at how significant the Talon was for his gearhead and leadfoot upbringing- wanted to make his fly. I did not make that up. The other two’s College Cars challenge cars -Rutledge’s 1972 VW Station Wagon and Adam’s 1982 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance– didn’t fare any better, regardless if those too weren’t replaced by lookalike shells.
I apologize for the graphic content. The boys weren’t keen on doing this so-called safety challenge, regardless whether it was their scripted personas or actual opinion. I mean, can you blame them? These were the same make and model of their first cars (the producers even brought in younger doppelgangers, which was amusing). One can make out whose cars is whose: Tanner – 1985 Honda CRX. Rutledge – 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit pickup. Adam – 1987 Dodge Aries K. The entire stunt could be debated on how it worked or didn’t but in the end, let’s just agree with Rutledge: this is stupid.
Some of the builds looked really clean, like this 1989 Honda Civic Wagovan. I dig the wheels, I dig the paintjob. I did not expect Rutledge’s camper conversion! Too bad it’ll be a pain to undo. He called it the “Mini Winnie”, you know, from Winnebago.
We could sit here and debate the relative safety of the Dangerous Cars episode, where the usual suspects were lined up for yet another round of jokes: The 1974 Ford Pinto (poster child of corporate attitude towards safety, with its susceptibility towards catching fire if rear-ended, with its doors trapping its passengers), the 1962 Chevrolet Corvair (poster child of a political movement to make safer cars that still ruined the car’s reputation despite being quite clever) and the 1988 Suzuki Samurai (poster child for tall vehicles tendency to tip over which of course will happen if you drive it like an idiot instead of a normal fashion). Oh, and did I tell you that while the Pinto blew smoke and that the Corvair kept spinning out, the Samurai flipped on a part of the track that looked suspiciously raised, while being driven at speed? It helped that it was the only car of the trio to have a rollcage. The Samurai is to TGUSA to what the Reliant Robin is to TGUK. BTW, this all happened before they entered a demolition derby. Then, the Pinto was clearly rigged to catch fire. Say what you will, but that Pinto and Corvair were cherry.
It’s all low-hanging fruit for car enthusiasts, particularly those that have seen the bigger picture. But it’s entertainment for the masses. Soon we’ll see Disney Pixar’s Cars feature AMCs and Russian cars as bad guys due to their so-called loser-car status. Oh, wait…
One of the final cars to be driven on the show was a 1974 Lada Sport, modified, said to be the fastest Lada on the island. Of course, it was Tanner that was driving. This was in a recently opened Cuba, and everybody was trying to film there.
Just like I did with TGUSA, I’m going to give Top Gear America a chance when it airs on (last time I checked) July 30, on BBC America (check your local listings). I mean, how hard bad could it be?
Title card: Wikipedia (they have the best one)
Camper conversion, tractor: IMCDb
Bronco and Scout: http://www.fullsizebronco.com
VECTOR!!!!!… and Toyota Truck, dangerous trio, Equus and first cars: YouTube
Saleen, motorcycles, Brute Jeep and FJ: http://mylifeatspeed.com
Stig landing on Lincoln, Stuck “Jeep” Renegade: Printscreen
Cuban Lada: www.martinoticias.com